Our Mission: Providing Ongoing Education and Prevention
Kids on the Block’s mission is to provide ongoing education and prevention through puppetry for children and the community at large. The core message in each program is to teach children acceptance of differences in themselves and in others.
The troupe uses life size puppets and performs 17 topics in the style of Bunraku puppetry. The puppeteers travel the state performing in schools, boys and girls clubs, and other community centers. In 2021, 24,213 children in 45 counties viewed programs. The puppets bring children to a teachable moment by reflecting their hopes, fears, likes, and dislikes.
Other initiatives include owning and operating The Higgins Center for Nonprofits, free kids runs, a youth board for elementary aged children, and a monthly victim impact panel to combat driving under the influence.
Kids on the Block History
In 1977, special education teacher Barbara Aiello had a student, Anthony, with cerebral palsy who used a wheelchair. Anthony was bright, and Barbara felt that he was ready to be mainstreamed into a “regular” classroom. A few days later, Anthony told her he didn’t want to go back to that classroom because children ignored him, made fun of him and didn’t want to play with him.
While Anthony was academically prepared, teachers or children in the “regular” classroom weren’t prepared for Anthony. So, Barbara made a puppet with Anthony’s likeness, including his red hair and constructed a wheelchair out of garden hose and bicycle tires. Using the puppet, Barbara explained to his class why he looked different, talked differently and used a wheelchair. Kids on the Block was born the moment children began to raise their hands to ask the puppet character questions. When a hand was raised, a barrier came down.
From there, Anthony’s puppet grew to a family of puppet characters and programs designed to help children understand and cope with sensitive issues.
Coming to Kentucky
Kentucky Kids on the Block was founded in 1985 by Jamie Gaddie Higgins and Alice Kummer. Jamie took her daughter, Heather, to a Spina Bifida Association Christmas party. Nashville Kids on the Block performed their “Accepting Differences” program. Heather, who has spina bifida, reacted in such a positive way, her mother reached out to her friend, Alice, about starting their own puppet troupe in Bowling Green.
The puppetry used by Kentucky Kids on the Block is based on a Japanese style of puppetry called Bunraku. Bunraku puppetry, using life sized puppets, is used to bring children to the teachable moment. Each year, Kentucky Kids on the Block presents 300 programs to approximately 30,000 children in 20 Kentucky counties. The programs blend humor with sensitivity to help children develop an attitude of understanding and acceptance toward others that will serve them the rest of their lives. Kids on the Block is housed in the Higgins Center for Nonprofits.
Kids on the Block Staff
Partner at Carr, Riggs, and Ingram, CPAs
Johna Rodgers Consulting, LLC
President of Chase Bank
Kelly Family Foundation
Owner of New Millennium Real Estate, LLC
Kentucky Kids on the Block Co-founder
Wedge Family Foundation
Owner of Riley’s Bakery
Owner of Communication Systems
BRADD (Barren River Area Development District) Community Project Development Specialist
Radio DJ at Commonwealth Broadcasting
Julie Ann Rosing
Law Clerk at US District Court for Western District of Kentucky
“Passion is the difference between having a job or a career.” When Ashley Reynolds began her journey as the grant writer at Kids on the Block in 2013, she knew she had found her career. After being appointed Executive Director in 2014, she and the staff set a goal for a second troupe to be formed which would be primarily focused on child abuse prevention. That dream was realized when Kids on the Block received The Women’s Fund Impact Grant in 2019. Her favorite program is child abuse because she strongly believes the most immediate need facing our world is protecting children.
She loves being involved in the community and also serves as a Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce Ambassador, and teaches adult and kids yoga classes at the Warren County Public Library.
Ashley enjoys yoga, running, skiing, collecting antiques with her dad, going to concerts with her mom, and planning her next trip to the beach with her husband, sons, and two wild dogs.
Director of Programs/Lead Puppeteer
I am a WKU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies. So I thought Kids on the Block would be a good fit for me. I started working at Kids on the Block as a puppeteer in June 2011. In 2014 I became the Director of Programs and Lead Puppeteer.
I enjoy presenting programs at schools because through puppetry I am able to bring children to a teachable moment that they don’t forget. The programs that I feel most passionate about teaching is the Child Abuse Prevention programs. These programs not only teach children about child abuse but also teach children how to get out of abusive situations.
The programs that I have the most fun presenting are the Accepting Differences (Campers program), Problem Solving, and Divorce programs. (Who am I kidding, they are all fun!) When I am not working I enjoy outdoors activities such as gardening, hiking and kayaking with my husband, daughter and our dog.
I have lived in Bowling Green most of my life. I married my husband in 1996 and we had our daughter in 2000. I had always worked with kids and would play with puppets and change my voice for the different characters in the books I would read to them. Little did I know God was preparing me for something greater. I started working with Kids on the Block on March 1, 2007. My favorite KOB program is Child Abuse Prevention. The pain of being abused follows a child the rest of their life and if just one child learns they can say no or learns that it’s ok to tell, then it is worth all the time we put into it. When I’m not at work I am very involved with my church where I currently lead the music and choir. I love to hike, camp, cook and sing. I have 2 dogs, 1 cat and a ball python.
Puppeteer / Higgins Center Marketing
My name is Haley Abell and I’m the newest puppeteer with Kids on the Block as well as Higgins Center marketing.
I grew up in Bardstown, KY where I performed in theatre since I was ten. This took me to Western Kentucky University when I graduated high school to pursue both performance and fiction writing. While in BG, I found out about Kids on the Block and wanted very badly to work there for years, so I am now thrilled to be a part of the team!
In my off time, I write fiction, make music, and talk about how much I like dragons. And Stephen is my absolute favorite puppet!
My name is Hailey Robertson and I am so excited to join the Kids on the Block team!
I am currently a BFA Theatre major and Arts Administration minor at Western Kentucky University. I am originally from Louisville, but my passion for theatre education brought me to study in Bowling Green, and it’s what brought me to work here! When I’m not working with the puppets, I love to be with my cats!
Grant Professional / Development Assistant
I started working at Kids on the Block as a Development Intern January of 2021. As I was finishing my Bachelors of Arts in Theatre, I fell in love with the puppets! I loved everything we were doing, especially our work in Child Abuse Prevention. Following my graduation from WKU, I was brought on as a Development Assistant and Grant Professional. It’s been an amazing adventure since!
When I’m not helping with the puppets, you might find me singing, reading, or geeking out over the latest theatre news. I also enjoy trying out new adventures with my husband, Reggie, our dog and two cats.